Full list: Agriculture in the News

Times Argus: GMO labeling law lands allies

July 23,2014
By Neal Goswami
Full Article

MONTPELIER — Two advocacy groups are looking to help defend the state against an industry group lawsuit against Vermont’s GMO labeling law.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Center for Food Safety say they have filed papers to formally move for party status in the lawsuit against Act 120, which was signed into law in May by Gov. Peter Shumlin. It requires the labeling of food with genetically engineered ingredients.

The two groups want to intervene on behalf of the state to assist in defending the law. Both groups are being represented jointly by lawyers from CFS and the Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the largest group of food manufacturers in the country, as well as the Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and National Association of Manufacturers, filed suit against the law about a month after it was signed. The state’s response to the suit is due Aug. 8.

The food industry has poured tens of millions of dollars into anti-labeling campaigns in other states, according to the groups.

“Corporations don’t get a veto in the state of Vermont,” said George Kimbrell, a senior attorney for CFS who will serve as the lead attorney for VPIRG and CFS. “We will vigorously defend this legally sound and important law, which is critical to our members and our mission.”

Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG, said his group is prepared to contribute resources to help the state defend the law.

“Vermonters take their food seriously, and this law gives them the information they need to make informed purchasing choices,” Burns said. “VPIRG will do whatever we can to defend the GMO labeling law from corporate bullies who would rather keep consumers in the dark about what’s in their food.”

Falko Schilling, VPIRG’s leading advocate for GMO labeling, said it is unclear exactly how much the legal effort will cost.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell has said Assistant Attorney General Megan J. Shafritz, chief of the attorney general’s civil division, will serve as the lead attorney for the state. The litigation team defending the law will include in-house attorneys Jon Alexander, Kyle Landis-Marinello and Naomi Sheffield. It will also employ attorneys from the Washington, D.C., firm Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber LLP, which struck a $1.465 million contract with Sorrell’s office.

Sorrell told lawmakers the legal effort could cost the state as much as $8 million if it loses the case.

Vermont’s law, set to take effect in July 2016, is seen as a key battle in whether or not food companies will be required to label products with genetically modified ingredients. Two other states, Connecticut and Maine, have passed food labeling laws that are contingent on other states passing similar legislation. And Oregon has a ballot initiative on the November ballot.

Mary-Kay Swanson, executive assistant to Sorrell, who was out of state Tuesday, said the state is not opposing intervention by VPIRG and CFS, but the court will decide if they meet the legal standard for party status. She said the state is planning to mount a strong defense regardless.

“There’s no question that the state will vigorously defend this law and that we have the resources and expertise at our disposal,” she said. “In no way will this case be hindered by us having to pinch pennies.”

Schilling said both VPIRG and CFS can help boost the state’s defense of the law if they are granted party status.

“This is an issue that we have been involved with … and we have a long history of working on and we feel we can bring a lot of things to the table,” Schilling said. “That’s why we’re pushing to intervene. We believe the law is constitutional and believe it will be upheld.”


Center for Food Safety: Vermont Public Interest Research Group and Center for Food Safety Move to Defend Vermont GE Labeling Law

Experts join forces to protect state from aggressive legal challenge by the food industry
July 21st, 2014
Full Press Release

Today, Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) and Center for Food Safety (CFS) formally moved to defend Vermont’s genetically engineered (GE) food labeling law, Act 120. The groups filed legal papers to intervene on behalf of the State of Vermont in order to assist in defending Act 120 from a legal challenge brought by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and other food industry trade associations. They are represented jointly by counsel from CFS and Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic (ENRLC). Act 120 was signed into law on May 8, 2014. GMA, which represents the country’s largest food manufacturers and has poured tens of millions of dollars into anti-labeling campaigns in other states, sued Vermont just over a month after the law was signed.

“Corporations don’t get a veto in the state of Vermont,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety. “We will vigorously defend this legally sound and important law, which is critical to our members and our mission.”

“Vermonters take their food seriously, and this law gives them the information they need to make informed purchasing choices,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “VPIRG will do whatever we can to defend the GMO labeling law from corporate bullies who would rather keep consumers in the dark about what’s in their food.”

“With this filing, we’re very proud to be taking our first step in defending Vermont’s law. We’ve seen Act 120 this far and aren’t going to give up now – it’s a strong law that deserves protection,” said Laura Murphy, associate director of the ENRLC, which represented VPIRG throughout Act 120’s legislative process.

The Vermont law is scheduled to take effect in July 2016. Two other states, Connecticut and Maine, passed GE food labeling laws with effective dates contingent on other states passing similar legislation. Oregon also has a ballot initiative on GE labeling in November 2014.  There are currently 64 countries with labeling laws and 70 state bills were introduced in 2013-2014, in 30 different states.

Act 120 was carefully considered by several committees before the Vermont legislature passed it and the governor signed it into law. The GE food labeling law received the support of a strong coalition of citizens groups such as VPIRG and the Vermont Right to Know GMOs coalition, which includes Rural Vermont, NOFA-Vermont, and Cedar Circle Farm. VPIRG and The Vermont Right to Know coalition were essential, spearheading statewide policy and grassroots campaign efforts for several years.

GMA represents the country’s largest food manufacturers, which already label GE foods all over the world, but have forcefully fought efforts to label here in the U.S. For example, GMA spent over 13 million dollars to oppose 2012 and 2013 GE labeling ballot initiatives in California and Washington. GMA has also supported a bill in Congress that would preempt states from pursuing labeling laws, even in the absence of a federal standard. To help implement and defend its law, Vermont included in Act 120 a voluntary “food fight fund” provision to solicit public donations.


Huffington Post: Americans Are Too Stupid For GMO Labeling, Congressional Panel Says

By Michael McAuliff
07/10/2014
Full Article & video

WASHINGTON — It’s pretty rare that members of Congress and all the witnesses they’ve called will declare out loud that Americans are just too ignorant to be given a piece of information, but that was a key conclusion of a session of the House Agriculture Committee this week.

The issue was genetically modified organisms, or GMOs as they’re often known in the food industry. And members of the subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture, as well as their four experts, agreed that the genetic engineering of food crops has been a thorough success responsible for feeding the hungry, improving nutrition and reducing the use of pesticides.

People who oppose GMOs or want them labeled so that consumers can know what they’re eating are alarmists who thrive on fear and ignorance, the panel agreed. Labeling GMO foods would only stoke those fears, and harm a beneficial thing, so it should not be allowed, the lawmakers and witnesses agreed.

“I really worry that labeling does more harm than good, that it leads too many people away from it and it diminishes the market for GMOs that are the solution to a lot of the problems we face,” said David Just, a professor at Cornell University and co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs.

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) agreed with another witness, Calestous Juma, an international development professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, that political leaders had been cowed by misinformed populaces into bending on GMOs, especially in the European Union, where Juma said hundreds of millions of euros have been spent on studies that have found GMOs safe.

“It’s obvious that while the science in the EU in incontrovertible about the health and safety benefits of genetically modified hybrid crops, that because of politics, people are afraid to lead, and inform consumers,” Schrader said.

Juma cited an extensive report by the European Commission. (There is at least one controversial group that disagrees with him.)

Certainly, there is misinformation about GMOs, as highlighted in a New York Times feature on a Hawaiian ban of most GMOs. But entirely missing from the hearing was any suggestion that there are real concerns about the impact of genetically engineered food, such as the growth of pesticide-resistant “super weeds,” over-reliance on single-crop factory farming, decreased biodiversity, and a lack of a consistent approval process. (Read more pros and cons here.)

The issue may soon gain fresh relevance on Capitol Hill, where a measure backed by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) to stop states from requiring GMO labeling could get marked up as early as September. The bill also would allow genetically engineered food to be labeled “100 percent natural.”

The idea of the bill brought Ben and Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield to Capitol Hill Thursday to push back, along with Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who backs labeling.

Greenfield told HuffPost that labeling is a simple, inexpensive matter of letting people know what’s in their food, and letting them decide what they want to support and eat.

“This idea that consumers will be scared away — the label will be a very simple thing, a few words on a container saying something like ‘may be produced with genetic engineering.’ It’s not scary,” Greenfield said.


National Family Farm Coalition: Vermont’s GMO Labeling and Raw Milk Access Gain Legal Status

By Andrea Stander
Summer 2014 Newsletter
Full Article
On May 8, Governor Peter Shumlin signed Vermont’s “no-strings-attached” GMO Food Labeling bill into law (Act 120), which is also first in the nation. This is a huge victory for everyone who eats and wouldn’t have been possible without the enormous support of not only Vermont citizens and dedicated activists but many from around the country these past three legislative sessions. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to achieve this important step in protecting our right to choose the food that supports our values. You can see a slide show of photos from the GMO Labeling Bill Signing Ceremony here.
The VT Right to Know Coalition, of which Rural Vermont is a founding member, will continue its work in several areas: We are assembling all the lessons we learned and resources we gathered during the campaign to share with other states working GMO labeling bills and ballot initiatives.
We will develop materials to help Vermont citizens participate in the Attorney General’s rule-making process to implement the GMO Labeling law.
We are supporting the effort to raise money to support implementation and
defense of the new law through the Vermont Food Fight Fund that Governor
Shumlin announced when he signed the bill. If you or your organization can
help spread the word about the fund it will be greatly appreciated. We need to show the corporate bullies that  there is broad and deep support for the right to know what is in our food.
Grocery Manufacturers’ Association, et. al., file suit
Late in the afternoon of Thursday, June 12, the Grocery Manufacturers’
Association and industrial food allies the Snack Food Association, International
Dairy Foods Association and National Association of Manufacturers, filed a law-
suit in federal district court to strike down Vermont’s law.
Although the lawsuit does not raise any unexpected issues, it does mark the
beginning of what will likely be a landmark legal battle over the people’s right to
know vs. corporate right to hide.
This summer Rural Vermont’s Board and staff will be developing plans for our
next steps in addressing the broader concerns related to genetically engineered
food and corporate control of our food system. For more information, write andrea@ruralvermont.org or call 802-522-3284.
Raw Milk Bill Becomes Law: Farmers’ Markets Delivery Began July 1!
On Tuesday, May 27, Governor Peter Shumlin signed S.70, now Act 149, into
law. The new law makes modest improvements to the statute governing the
production and sale of raw milk in Vermont.
After hearing testimony on opposing sides from state and national experts, the
Legislature made improvements to the current raw milk law, including authorizing the delivery of raw milk to farmers’ markets for Tier 2 producers. Although
Act 149 makes only modest improvements in providing greater access to raw
milk, taking testimony and debating the bill significantly raised the profile of raw
milk among legislators and increased the level of respect for the farmers who
provide this esteemed product.
Act 149 will provide the following improvements in access to raw milk:
As of July 1, 2014, Tier 2 raw milk producers are able to deliver raw milk to existing customers at farmers’ markets where they sell. (Existing customer means someone who previously made a visit to the farm to make their initial purchase of raw milk.) Act 149 changes the daily sales limit to an aggregate weekly limit for both Tier 1 and Tier 2 producers, providing greater flexibility for farmers and convenience for customers. There are some additional requirements regarding cold storage capacity and protection of shelf life. Act 149 also clarifies that raw milk producers need only provide the “opportunity” for customers to take a tour of their farm.
.
For more details about these changes to the law, please read Rural Vermont’s Fact Sheet on Act 149. You may also read our updated “cheat sheet” on the requirements for Tier 1 and Tier 2 producers. Rural Vermont will reach out to raw milk producers and customers about opportunities offered by the new law. We will also continue our campaign for commonsense, scale-appropriate regulation of raw dairy and all other farm fresh food. For more information, write shelby@ruralvermont.org or call the office at 802-223-7222.

LA Times Op-Ed: A tip for American farmers: Grow hemp, make money


NPR: Raw Milk Producers Aim To Regulate Themselves


My Champlain Valley: Raw Milk Can Now Be Delivered to VT Farmers Markets

By Kristen Tripodi
07/01/2014
Full Article & Video

Starting Tuesday, raw milk can be delivered to farmers markets in Vermont. It’s all a part of a new law that was signed by Governor Peter Shumlin during the 2014 legislative session.

According to Rural Vermont—an organization that represents farmers, the new law says raw milk can be delivered to farmers’ markets by Tier 2 raw milk producers.

It gives increased access to markets for raw milk producers by allowing delivery to farmers’ markets.

The new law does not allow farmers to sell the raw milk at a farmers market. They can only deliver the product to customers who have already paid for the product.

To review the new law, click here.


Times Argus: Farmers markets get a raw (milk) deal

By Eric Blaisdell
July 06,2014
Full Article

MONTPELIER — History was made Saturday at the Capital City Farmers Market as raw milk was delivered for the first time under a new law — though the man delivering the milk wishes the new rules had gone even further.

Act 149, legislation that allows dairy farmers to deliver raw milk to farmers markets, went into effect July 1. The farmers can’t outright sell the milk at the markets, but can hand it over to customers who purchased the product previously.

The law requires a potential customer to first go to the farm where they want to purchase the raw milk. After one visit, the customer can thereafter purchase milk from the farmer without going to the farm.

The state already regulates who can sell raw milk, breaking farmers into two tiers, with the second tier reserved for bigger producers. Tier-two farmers, or those who sell up to 280 gallons of raw milk per week, were allowed to sell the milk at their farms or deliver to the customer’s home, before the recent law expanding delivery to farmers markets.

Frank Huard, a goat farmer from Craftsbury Common, was the first at the farmers market in Montpelier to take advantage of the new law. The Huard Family Farm has won the state’s highest quality milk award for its goat’s milk from the Vermont Dairy Industry Association in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

Huard said being able to deliver the milk at farmers markets is important because it gives small farmers the opportunity to expand into larger markets. It’s also more convenient for both the farmer and the consumer to pick up the milk at a spot where both were planning to be anyway.

Even so, Huard said he was disappointed the law requires customers to visit his farm before they can purchase his milk.

“It’s difficult for some people,” he said. “It’s just not convenient to ask them to drive all the way to Craftsbury to purchase milk. People are busy. I’m almost an hour away, so if they come and stay for 15 or 20 minutes and drive back, that’s almost three hours of (their) time.”

Huard said he had hoped the law would allow him to pick up new customers at the farmers market, not just at his farm. But he said he’d take the law as it is for now, calling it baby steps in the right direction for making raw milk more easily accessible to consumers in Vermont.

The man who was picking up the goat’s milk delivery from Huard was Alan LePage, owner and operator of LePage Farm in Barre. LePage also sells his own produce at the Capital City Farmers Market and is president of the Barre Farmers Market.

LePage said the new law was written because of farmers like Huard, and that people should be free to choose the food they want.

“I resent the fact that the state seems to think they know better than anyone else about the subject,” LePage said.

He said raw milk, which he has been drinking for 40 years, is no more dangerous than any other food or drink.

“The risks of raw milk spoilage are much less than they are with pasteurized milk,” LePage said. “The risks (of raw milk) are vastly exaggerated. If pasteurized milk spoils, there’s all kinds of bad things that can get into it. Whereas, raw milk generally makes cheese (when it spoils). You put it in a goat skin and travel to the other side of the hill on a 90 degree day, you’ve got cheese. That’s how cheese was invented. You can’t do that with pasteurized milk.”

LePage said raw milk has enzymes that pasteurized milk doesn’t. Those enzymes help keep certain pathogens out of raw milk.

As to why our food producers long ago started to pasteurize milk, he said it began when people started producing adulterated milk in what he called “dungeons” in the cities.

“Basically (the cows) were fed waste from breweries and basic inedible substances and the milk they produced was horrible,” he said. “People were dying from it. Rather than clean up these places and ban them, they simply insisted that all milk be pasteurized.”


RT: Ben & Jerry’s joins Vermont’s fight for GMO labeling

June 17, 2014
Full Article

As Vermont gears up to defend its first-in-the-nation labeling law concerning food that contains genetically modified organisms, ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s is teaming up with the state to help raise money for the cause.

According to the Burlington Free Press, the company is changing the name of one of its most popular ice cream flavors in order to promote donations to the Food Fight Fund set up to defend the state’s new GMO labeling law. For the month of July, Ben & Jerry’s fudge brownie ice cream will be known as “Food Fight! Fudge Brownie.”

Additionally, the company announced it will donate $1 from every ice cream purchase at its Burlington and Waterbury shops to Vermont’s legal fund.

In order to promote the fund, co-founder Jerry Greenfield appeared with Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin on Monday outside an ice cream store in Burlington.

“This is a pretty simple issue,” Greenfield said in a statement. “Vermonter’s want the right to know what’s in their food, and apparently a bunch of out of state companies don’t want to tell us.

“We’re used to putting dough in ice cream, but renaming Chocolate Fudge Brownie to Food Fight Fudge Brownie will help put some dough in the Food Fight Fund,” he added.

As RT reported previously, Vermont’s GMO labeling law is under legal attack from food companies such as Monsanto and Kraft Foods, as well as groups like the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) – an organization that includes Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s parent company.

Earlier this month, the GMA was one of four national trade organizations to file a lawsuit against the new requirements, arguing that GMO foods are safe and that labeling is not only costly, but also unnecessary. If states decide to come up with their own labeling requirements with no national guidelines, food makers say it would result in confusion and increased prices.

In a statement, the GMA called the law is “a costly and misguided measure that will set the nation on a path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that do nothing to advance the health and safety of consumers.”

The National Association of Manufacturers, meanwhile, said, “With zero justification in health, safety or science, the State of Vermont has imposed a burdensome mandate on manufacturers that unconstitutionally compels speech and interferes with interstate commerce.”

To defend its legislation, Vermont itself has allocated about $1.5 million towards a legal fund, but that is unlikely to be enough. According to the Associated Press, state officials believe about $8 million is needed, and so far only $18,000 has been raised.

Still, Gov. Shumlin said that while the fund is there to raise whatever it can, it’s not the only option the state has.

“We want to raise as much as we can,” he said in a separate Free Press article. “The rest we’ll do the old-fashioned way. We don’t expect to raise the whole amount.”

As for Ben & Jerry’s, the company has been transitioning its entire portfolio of ice cream flavors into non-GMO products. Despite being owned by Unilever – which spent more than $450,000 to try and defeat California’s own labeling proposals – the company has decided to forge ahead on a GMO-free path and support Vermont’s law.


Burlington Free Press: Vermont farm, forestry projects share $1.1M

Vermont awarded $1.1 million to 37 farm and forestry projects around the state on Tuesday in the second year it offered working lands grants.

Among the recipients is Grow Compost of Vermont LLC, which is receiving $75,000 for a new truck to collect food and food scraps from schools and businesses and manure from farms to turn into compost and for use in digesters to make energy. Some of the food will also go to food banks as Vermont moves toward its ambitious statewide goal of statewide recycling by 2015 and keeping food scraps out of landfills by 2020.

“We could not have imagined this day when we began eight years ago with a plan to create some good soil for our own gardens,” said Lisa Ransom, who along with her husband and parents own Grow Compost. “Our sights are now higher. We see an incredible potential for this work to create jobs.”

Other recipients are:

• $50,000 to Screamin’ Ridge Farm Inc. in East Montpelier for a collaborative processing facility for value-added agricultural projects;

• $75,000 to Vermont Technical College for a dairy processing plant and hub;

• $15,000 to Fat Toad Farm in Brookfield for more efficient caramel equipment to expand production at its goat farm;

• $9,825 to Green Mountain Hardwood in Ripton for a portable sawmill and materials for solar-assisted lumber kiln;

• $38,000 to the Vermont Livestock and Slaughter Processing LLC in Ferrisburgh for a computerized weight data and tracking system for livestock; and

• $20,000 to Wilcox Ice Cream in Manchester for a manufacturing facility.

“Every time we invest in our working landscape in the state of Vermont as we are through this fund — as the entrepreneurs are every day — we actually are making an investment in our economy, we’re making an investment in our ecology, we’re making an investment in undergirding the very culture that makes this place so special and at the end of the day we’re building community in this state that is why we live here,” Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross said.

The Working Lands Enterprise Board also leveraged $1.8 million in matching funds.